ISO 1600 was my friend

Two Saturdays ago my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a voice recital that had been put together by our friend and neighbor Jerome Kopmar. He has been the Cantor Emeritus at a local synagogue and has performed around the globe. He is also a voice instructor and one of his better/best students also performed this particular evening. Last year’s recital (which I saw without my wife due to her being out of town) was just as nice, but a little smaller in scope and held at a different location. I did not bring my camera to that performance, but did ask if I could bring my 40D with me to this one and Jerry agreed.

The one caveat I was given was that I could not use a flash. This seemed quite reasonable considering how the flash popping on would no doubt have blinded him, if only momentarily, making it rather difficult to read his sheet music.

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Once my wife and I arrived at the synagogue (this was his former synagogue, if I understood matters correctly, and they had asked if he would put on this year’s performance at the synagogue) I took some preliminary shots within the room the performance would be done. Poor results. The lighting was chaotic in that there were both compact florescent lights as well as incandescent sprinkled about the recesses of the ceiling. But to add real insult to injury was the fact the room was fairly dark. Well, dark as far as cameras are concerned.

It’s amazing how much more light is needed for a camera to capture an image at a lower ISO. Lighting conditions that seem quite fine and reasonable to our eyes can be total shit for the camera and it’s sensor. I knew this fact, but really hadn’t been exposed to it until this particular evening. I had brought along my trusty Canon 70-200mm f/4 zoom (constant f/4) and even it had one helluva time gathering enough light to make the sensor happy. During my pre-performance practice shots I kept bumping up the ISO in an attempt to obtain at least a 1/60 shutter speed, which I felt was necessary considering tonight’s performers would not be static forms upon the stage. About the best I could ever achieve was 1/30 when using my highest standard ISO setting: 1600.

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First: thank the heavens for Image Stabilization. A tripod was unreasonable for this endeavor and I do not own a monopod. Image stabilization saved my ass (and photos) on more than one occasion and I am so glad I spent the extra dough to get this feature in my lenses.

Second: ISO 1600 on the Canon 40D is usable, but just. Noise was a common problem throughout the range of pictures, but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. Yet it was bad enough.

I also became acutely aware of how loud is my camera. I’m not saying it’s louder than any other dSLR, but when all eyes and ears are focused upon a performer onstage, the sudden sound of a dSLR mirror flipping up, shutter curtain opening then closing, and the mirror flipping back down sounds like…..well…..like a cannon going off. I don’t think it disturbed anyone and I did check with Jerry during the intermission, asking if either my movement about the room or the sound of my camera irritated him. He quickly dismissed such notions and thanked me for not only attending, but for taking pictures (which I have, of course, shared with him and his wife).

Without having yet done any research on the issue of shooting under such circumstances, I have a hard time imagining what sort of thing I could do to obtain better results that wouldn’t involve adding lighting, which is out of the question. Shooting wide open with a pretty decent f/4 lens…..other than bumping up the ISO what is one to do?

I mean, other than purchase a Canon 5D Mark II which can shoot at even higher ISOs with less noise!

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“Not to shabby,” he mused to himself

Odd.

No. Really.

I used to love to be in front of the camera. Never one to shy away I actually volunteered to be a model for photography classes at my local junior college when I was about 21 or 22 years old. I also volunteered to be a model for a local hair salon about the same time period.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not claiming that I was a model or anything close to it, but I liked to be photographed and I was rather unusual looking in that Peter Murphy of the 1980’s manner. But today I have little to no desire to be in front of the camera, which is bit of a pisser considering the potential for self-portraiture. However, I had been tagged on Flickr for one of those “16-things about you” and the tag indicated that I needed to include a photo of myself.

Well shit.

No one around here actually takes photos of me, which is odd considering the number of cameras in this house is seven. If anyone ever pulled out a “family” photo album they would swear that I never existed at all. But this is beside the point……

So I needed a photo. To be frank I really didn’t feel like turning this into some sort of major project and I wanted to get this little project done ASAP. Sitting here at the kitchen table I pondered to myself “Now what?” And then it struck me: take a picture of yourself right here, at the table, in front of the laptop upon which you have been for the past hour or so. And so I did.

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Having taken and processed the picture into a JPEG I was about to upload it to Flickr and complete my 16-things thing when I was struck by how much I liked it. Wait. That’s not completely accurate. I took a fistful of pictures, if you will, and settled upon this one as my fav. It was then that I processed and converted, etc. The more I looked at the image the more I liked it. However, the more I looked at and enjoyed it, the more I realized that I wanted to do something to it.

“Do something with it? Like with software? Me?” Perish the thought.

But I did. I didn’t feel compelled to fool around with Photoshop Elements, but instead turned to my fav shareware app, Paint.Net. I duplicated the background layer and started messing around with some of the settings until I settled upon the general look you see here. But there was one thing that I did not like about the image after I processed it with Paint.Net: my eyes.

In my original photo my eyes stood out; just a bit. I do have some nicely coloured eyes. Sort of an icy blue. But in my processed version the colour was washed out. To bring back that particular component of the picture I used the erasure tool and ‘erased’ the duplicate layer over my eyes and suddenly all was right with the world.

I don’t really know how important it was for me to jump on this 16-things about me challenge, but I’m so very glad I opted to reply (for more than this reason though). It forced me to do something I really didn’t want to do, but found that it can have results that are far better than I expected. I may have to try this sort of thing more often.

The relentless march of technology…

I know that this blog of mine is geared towards photography, but something occurred just a few minutes ago that was so interesting I feel compelled to blog about it here. I mean, I’ve already posted this blog on other sites to which I belong, but posting it here gave me a chance to run out to the garage and shoot a quick picture with my oft neglected Canon p&s digi camera.

And in a way this entry is relevant to issues of modern photography as well. Digital photography has revolutionized photography. I won’t pass judgment on whether this revolution has been good, bad or neutral for photography, but there is no doubt that digital photography has changed everything. So please to enjoy…..

Being 44 I’m old enough to remember a world without cell phones. Hell, I’m old enough to remember a world where only the Bell Company controlled all our telephony communications. I’m old enough that I remember the days before call waiting, call forwarding and answer machines.

Well maybe the answer machine thing isn’t completely true. I know they were around, but let’s just say that I’m old enough to remember a time when answering machines were expensive and about the size of a VCR.

Anyway…..the daughter is home today from school; ill. Or faking it. Who can tell? She was supposed to have a two-hour stint of car driving with her driving instructor, but we have opted to phone and try to reschedule seeing how the daughter doesn’t feel well. Or pretends to not feel well. The daughter phoned the firm earlier to inquire about rescheduling today’s lesson and the woman said that she would call back.

It’s now 1455 and we haven’t heard back so I suggested to the daughter that she phone again, which she did. The daughter came into the t.v. room, where I was vegging, with this perplexed look upon her face, phone in hand, and said “Listen to this,” and she proceeded to dial the phone number. Turning on the speaker phone I listened and heard the busy-signal that we so rarely hear today in a world of call waiting, call forwarding, voice mail, etc. Instead it was that awful cacophony of noise that used to tell us that the other party’s line was engaged and that you would have to try them again later.

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The daughter looked truly perplexed and I had to explain that she was hearing a busy signal, etc. It suddenly struck me how odd her world is compared to mine at that age. Technology has truly changed the face of our everyday world. Just a few generations ago technological advances didn’t typically have much impact upon the everyday life of consumers, but this clearly isn’t the case today and for our future.

It leaves me wondering what sort of sights and sounds will be completely unfamiliar to my daughter’s children when they reach her age and how funny she will find those moments.

When a plan comes together

It is quite rare indeed when a plan I make comes together and yields results. And yet it actually happened two weekends ago when I made a trip to a local park in hopes of catching sledders enjoying the bountiful snow we had recently received.

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I had heard that this particular park, Hills and Dales MetroPark, had some good sledding hills and this was true. I had dropped by on a different day during the week, but there was no one sledding at that time. As such I made a mental note to return on a weekend, whereby there might be at least a few folks braving the cold to enjoy some high speed excitement. It worked out quite well as my wife and I had need to visit a shop located very near the Hills and Dales MetroPark and my wife was kind enough to give me some latitude on spending time on the hills while she remained safe and warm in the car.

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There were plenty of folks enjoying themselves and no one seemed bothered in the least by my presence. I snapped a lot of pictures, but not all came out. The highly reflective snow played tricks with metering and focusing on sledders as they whizzed by was difficult for both me (manually) as well as the camera (automatically), but I had enough good shots to consider the trip a complete success.

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Heck, this little adventure fit in quite well with my group’s selection of the month so I was able to satisfy both my general desire for this photo shoot as well as my needs for the group project, which is a real win-win if you ask me.

“My butt is numb”

Last Sunday we were having a very nice snow here in Southwest Ohio and it was scheduled to end about midday. I thought the heavy snow and low temperatures (hovering around 16F for the high) would make for the perfect photography outing for yours truly. I could shoot in the snow with overcast skies for a while and then out would come the sun and I could take a different look at the same environment.

I donned the requisite winter-time outdoor gear (waterproof/insulated boots, good gloves, not too heavy jacket and head covering) and headed to a new location, the Aullwood Audubon Center & Farm, which I just joined the previous week. Knowing they had plenty of bird feeders, and therefore birds, I elected to hike some of the trails and head towards the farm while the snow abated and the sun tried to come out from behind the clouds. It was a wonderful hike in the 6-8 inches of snow and the two hours passed very quickly. But I was anxious to return to the center since the sun had finally made an appearance and I knew the birds would be waiting.

I think the wait was worth it.

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I knew that I would need to spend some time hanging around the feeders so that the birds would become accustomed to my presence, which meant sitting or laying in the rather cold snow. Had I been thinking I would have brought some of the large pieces of cardboard that were sitting in our garage awaiting recycling day, but I wasn’t that smart. However, the nice folks at Aullwood Center found some cardboard for me that suited my purpose fairly well.

I plopped my butt down upon the 3×3-foot piece of cardboard and waited for the birds. During this time the rather thin cardboard became wet, which in turn led to my bum becoming wet and subsequently rather cold. It was, to be frank, uncomfortable for a few minutes, but eventually my bum became numb and it was ‘problem solved.’ In the meantime the birds, especially the cardinals, had become accustomed enough to my presence that they returned in large numbers and I was able to get some pretty reasonable shots.

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I must say, there is little that I find more appealing than shots of cardinals, both male and female, in a snowy environment. Their colours just pop against either the bright white of snow or the muted browns and greys of tree limbs and branches. I look so forward to getting more pictures of them as the months of winter change to spring.